Sunday, September 20, 2009

Musical Interlude

A week ago I took a break from the bike scene to go to a music camp.  If I can find a simple enough tune and a large enough group to hide in I will play in public.  The rest of the time I do everyone a favor and keep that noise strictly under wraps.

The cellist had been talked into going to Fiddleheads Acoustic Music Camp by a violinist friend with whom she does gigs.  The violinist, Melissa, had been working some fiddle tunes into the repertoire and wanted to explore the realm of improvisation and playing by ear.  I went along because I heard there would be stuff for beginners.  Since I've only been doing this sporadically for the past nine years or so, it's like my seven years of first-year French.  I have little patches of fluency separated by huge deserts of embarrassing silence or unintelligible gibberish.

My teachers have, for the most part, followed classical tradition to develop sight reading skills.  Reading is a useful skill. I find it one of the hardest things to learn about music.  Mentally, it feels exactly like riding technical singletrack.  When it doesn't work, it feels like messing up on technical singletrack. Off you go into the weeds!

A tight, technical trail can have a rhythm and flow to it.  When I mountain biked frequently I would have days when I had "trail vision."  I could see exactly where to go at the exact moment I needed to go there.  You don't have time to stop and gloat while you're doing it, but at the end of the phrase or section you know you nailed it.

Learning music by ear is a more natural, primitive approach.  Music is made by playing with sound.  The metaphor changes to a group ride, especially on a fast piece.  Certain traditions sprint away as ruthlessly as an aggressive club ride, leaving the stragglers for dead.  As with any group ride, the fastest set the pace, so the rest of the group relates to them.  If they're not that fast, a less trained group might stay together longer.

All the professionals were holding back the pace in the workshops at Fiddleheads.  I was still well off the back most of the time.  Since it was a learning rather than a performing environment, everyone still remained accessible.  This was true from featured expert Darol Anger through the whole teaching staff of professional musicians from around the region and the players of all ability who had come to participate.

The camp lasted from late Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.  We didn't sleep a lot during that time.  For the next two days, when I was still off from work, I spent most of my time practicing what I had learned. I barely even looked at a bike.

Wednesday I was back in the saddle and had a long zoning board meeting after work.  I didn't start catching up on sleep until Thursday or Friday night.

This coming Tuesday, night begins to grow larger than day in the Northern Hemisphere.  My bikes have sprouted light brackets on the handlebars.  I've tested my Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp as a helmet light.  The commute changes as I start to mix modes by driving part way.  Among other things, this allows me to stash a fiddle in the car, because the route home passes conveniently close to the home and studio of two of my teachers.  We'll see how that goes.

No comments: